From Basel to Paris

You don’t get a second chance at a first impression and Basel remained just as expensive and bike friendly as it was when I first arrived. Not a huge fan of the city – a bit too bleak for mine, not helped by the weather which remained doggedly grey and miserable throughout my stay.

The cloud and drizzle had lain siege to central-western Europe and it was in these conditions that I crossed the border into France after performing the ritual of getting hopelessly lost – this time in German Basel – for about an hour.

The first day’s cycle was via Mulhouse to Montbeliard (about 100km) in Alsace. As was the case with the trip through the Black Forest, the ride would have been altogether pleasant were it not for the unhelpful weather and delay resulting from my impromptu sejour into Deutsche Basel.

The route itself was largely flat being along the Rhone-Rhine canal.

The next day’s cycle was to the city of Bescancon and was much the same as the previous leg, though there were welcome periods of sun as I trundled along next to the canal.

At one point I was on my Animals of Farthing Wood shit when I saw an otter frolicking with a swan among the reeds of the Doubs River, which I had since begun to follow. Unfortunately my camera was out of batteries so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

The old town of Bescancon is built on a horseshoe meander of the Doubs, which gives the impression that it has a vast moat.

On arriving in the town, the previously benign weather decided to unleash and a five minute downpour added “anger at the world and everyone in it” to the fatigue and wet that I was already feeling. However, a shower and the new Drake album fixed that, and I was pleasantly surprised that the supermarket across the road was still baking its own bread at 7pm. #France

The following leg remained on the River Doubs, but the previous days’ 100km treks gave way to a relatively accommodating 60km ride.

The highlight was when the canal accompanying the river diverted through a mountain tunnel with a cascading wall of water marking the entrance.

Dole was the destination. A commune in the Jura department, it was a fairly routine sort of town with the standard winding cobblestone walking streets and unjustifiably dominating cathedral.

It was in this town that I realised I couldn’t possible make Paris in time if I continued along the route following the Loire via Orleans. Consequently, I decided to head north to the home of mustard in Dijon. It was a fairly short 50km cycle along the main route that only took a couple of hours.

Having shaved off a week’s riding by abandoning Orleans, I was able to orchestrate a fairly simple five day, 350km tour between Dijon and the capital of France/the World depending on to whom you speak.

Perhaps inadvisably, I was working off a map without topographic contours, so the third and fourth category climbs within the first 30km of the next day’s ride to Chatillon sur Seine came as something of a rude surprise.

Stopping at a tabac for a coffee in a tiny town called Moloy, the bartender and the only other patron (2/3 through a bottle of red at 10am #France) warned me that my proposed route was to become even more steep and hilly.

They advised me to take the trucking route to Chatillon sur Seine.

While by no means flat, the undulating terrain afforded the reward of a long descents after the manageable climbs. However, on one of the more precarious downhills, an overzealous semi whooshed past at an inopportune moment and my subsequent overcorrection resulted in my jack-knifing and going for a little slide.

The only real damage was to my leather gloves which, despite being shredded beyond repair, fulfilled their function admirably. So the joke’s on everyone who rolled his or her eyes at that fashion-conscious purchase, because, by coincidence, they were also good gloves.

Chattilon sur Seine was a sleepy sort of place that offered little more than a comfortable bed and the now typical church that’s roughly 700 years older than Australia. Although I did become reacquainted with renowned French hospitality when my inquiry about the lack of advertised WiFi was greeted with a Gallic shrug and “C’est ça.”

Much of the next few days’ cycle followed a similar pattern and the lack of surprises was not unpleasant. I followed Route Nationale 6 over rolling green hills towards Paris, staying in the communes of Tonnere, Sens, and Fontainebleau along the way.

If the Czech Republic is largely made up of pubs and convenience stores and Austro-Germany principally ice creameries and apothecaries, then France is, for the most part, tobacconists and bakeries.

In the village of St Florentine between Tonnerre and Sens, I was reminded of how to spot the best bakery in town. The town square boasted no less than five bakeries, four of which were empty, while one was literally stopping traffic.

I didn’t realise Fontainebleau was the site of a substantial palace until I entered the town via the chateau’s grounds. I did not take this photo; mine couldn’t do the place justice.

I anticipated problems the next day for what was to be my final day on the road. Naturally, the most direct route to Paris is on the motorways, but I was unwilling to tempt fate after my run in with Das 5-0 on the Austrian autobahn, so I decided to wing it and follow the Seine. Failing that, I figured that I would just head north.

Sounds simple, right? Not the case. The 55km on Google Maps turned into 75km and took about as long as an 85km ride ought to. The innumerable diversions resulting from road works, tunnels, motorways, airports, and train lines combined with cramps, general fatigue and, quelle surprise, wrong turns, extended the tour by a few hours. But, as they say, what’s a goon to a goblin?

Such delays didn’t really matter as I rolled through the hypothetical Italian Gate, before passing the quite existential Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle, rounding the Louvre, dismounting through the Tuilleries like a good boy, and chancing the Champs Elysee. It was at this point that I consciously shuffled through my personal soundtrack in search of something appropriately epic and uplifting.

I’m going to be honest, cycling in Parisian traffic for the first time, I felt about as secure as a 14-year-old nerd with chronic acne. I was mainly trying to figure out which road rules were enforceable.

Cars stop in the middle of the street because they need to turn right and they’re in the left lane, so fuck you. Scooters and motorbikes drive down bike lanes in the wrong direction and taxis will collude to obstruct corridors in the traffic through which one would usually expect to ride unimpeded. #France

Anyway, I made it to the Arc de Triomphe, my symbolic conclusion of the tour, unscathed, but with a firm feeling of the surreal. I then flew around the world’s most famous roundabout by the seat of my pants for the experience – a terrifying one that I doubt I’ll repeat.

I relaxed in Paris for a bit, enjoying the luxury of family-subsidised living with mamma, auntie, and cousin. Now I’m in Antibes in the south of France where I’ll marinate for a few more days before working out how to get back to Australia.

It’s been real,

Seb

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